Updated: North Korea claimed Thursday that its Wednesday launch was the second successful test flight of a hypersonic missile. The official Korean Central News Agency said the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party expressed “great satisfaction” at the results of the missile test, which was observed by leading weapons officials. The move indicates the country will press ahead with plans to modernize its nuclear and missile arsenals rather than return to disarmament talks anytime soon, the AP reports. Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose crucial challenges to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Wednesday’s test was the second of its kind since North Korea first launched a hypersonic missile last September. Our original story from Wednesday follows:
North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea on Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese militaries said, the first such launch in about two months and a signal that Pyongyang isn’t interested in rejoining denuclearization talks anytime soon and would rather focus on boosting its weapons arsenal. The latest launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to further bolster his military capability—without disclosing any new policies toward the United States or South Korea—at a high-profile ruling party conference last week, the AP reports. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday morning. It said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were trying to analyze more information about the launch.
In an emergency video conference, members of South Korea’s presidential national security team expressed concerns about the launch and said resuming talks with North Korea is important to resolve tensions, according to the presidential Blue House. The Japanese Defense Ministry also detected the North Korean launch, saying the country likely fired a missile. “We find it truly regrettable that North Korea has continued to fire missiles from last year,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. Kishida said other details about the North Korean launch weren’t immediately available, including where the suspected missile landed and whether there had been any damage. He said he ordered officials to confirm the safety of ships and planes in the area where the suspected missile likely flew and fell.
During last week’s plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim repeated his vows to boost his country’s military capacity and ordered the production of more powerful, sophisticated weapons systems. State media reports on the meeting said North Korea set forth “tactical directions” for North Korea’s external relations including with South Korea, but didn’t elaborate. The reports made no mention of the United States. Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that North Korea might have tested the hypersonic missile or a nuclear-capable KN-23 missile with a highly maneuverable and lower-trajectory flight. He said North Korea would likely move forward with its military build-up plans. (Read more North Korea stories.)